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1 freetoken  May 10, 2015 9:09:22pm

This all leads back to the Non-overlapping magisteria discussion that’s been kicked around for many, many years.

2 freetoken  May 10, 2015 9:11:03pm

And, Scott has been criticized by some for her stance, though I understand from her point that, strategically speaking, here in the US (as would be true in other highly religious countries too) she will trap more flies with honey than with vinegar.

3 CuriousLurker  May 10, 2015 9:14:36pm

re: #1 freetoken

This all leads back to the Non-overlapping magisteria discussion that’s been kicked around for many, many years.

Thanks.

re: #2 freetoken

And, Scott has been criticized by some for her stance, though I understand from her point that, strategically speaking, here in the US (as would be true in other highly religious countries too) she will trap more flies with honey than with vinegar.

I agree, with what she says—i.e. basically, that the either/or thing polarizes people (if I understood her correctly).

4 goddamnedfrank  May 10, 2015 9:15:26pm

Yeah, she’s right, he’s projecting his own opinion onto the theory and it’s inappropriate.

5 klys (maker of Silmarils)  May 10, 2015 9:16:01pm

Conversations that never came up in the course of doing my Ph.D.: what my religious beliefs or lack thereof might be.

And yet, somehow, they saw fit to give me a degree and publish my papers without knowing what they were. Almost like they didn’t matter.

So I guess what I’m saying is: I agree. ;)

6 goddamnedfrank  May 10, 2015 9:19:33pm

This is really where I think overt agnosticism pays off, by not coming off like a cocksure dillhole making absolutist bullshit raw assertions about the intrinsically unknowable.

7 Amory Blaine  May 10, 2015 9:21:21pm

The quote she’s talking about is based on a poll question. That question could have been framed that way in the poll.

8 goddamnedfrank  May 10, 2015 9:24:43pm

re: #7 Amory Blaine

The quote she’s talking about is based on a poll question. That question could have been framed that way in the poll.

Except he’s labeling that answer as the “standard scientific theory.” Even if he’s just blithely repeating that label it’s burdening the theory of evolution with extraneous atheist baggage.

9 Amory Blaine  May 10, 2015 9:30:33pm

re: #8 goddamnedfrank

I agree that it’s unnecessary and unproductive to politicize it.

10 CriticalDragon1177  May 10, 2015 9:32:12pm

CuriousLurker,

I really don’t think you can prove or disprove the existence of God using science. If a being exists outside of natural law, you can’t use the scientific method to test for his existence. The best you can do is to try to determine if the universe makes more sense with a creator, or more sense without one.

11 goddamnedfrank  May 10, 2015 9:36:20pm

Agnosticism is Clint Eastwood in that Dirty Harry movie where he’s all “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Atheism is Clint Eastwood lecturing an empty chair on stage in front of a confused audience.

12 wheat-dogghazi-mailgate  May 10, 2015 10:16:53pm

Eugenie Scott is great when it comes to dealing with anti-evolution people, especially those who imagine that evolution is some kind of faith (as in religious belief) rather than a scientific theory backed by centuries of empirical evidence.

Modern science — meaning science since roughly Galileo’s time — looks for material causes of material phenomena. The supernatural need not apply, so gods, ghosts, demons, etc., are right out as explanations for what we see or experience. Likewise, materialism seeks to find material causes for so-called supernatural events, such as miracles (weeping statues), ghosts and apparitions, magic tricks, and so on.

When he derived the equation for universal gravitational, Newton had no explanation for how the Moon, for example, “knows” the Earth is nearby and should exert a force on it. In other words, he couldn’t explain how gravity gets around. So, he was honest and said something to the effect, “I don’t know how gravity gets around, but I know it does, and anyway, look, my equation works!” His critics accused him of invoking witchcraft with this action-at-a-distance mumbo-jumbo, but since his equation worked, eventually they shut up about it.

Einstein said gravity “gets around” by warping spacetime. And the Standard Model presumes there is a particle (graviton) — as yet undetected — that carries the force. These are material explanations for gravitation, because we can measure them or detect them.

God is for some people a construct of human imagination and for others an invisible supernatural being. Either way, He/She/It is not part of the material world (unlike Madonna) and exists separate from the world of science. If science were a metal detector, God is a wooden statue under the sand. The metal detector can’t find wooden objects, and the wooden object can’t influence the metal detector.

13 freetoken  May 10, 2015 10:21:32pm

re: #12 wheat-dogghazi-mailgate

Anyone who can draw a line from Galileo to Madonna should get double up dings.

14 wheat-dogghazi-mailgate  May 10, 2015 10:28:13pm

re: #13 freetoken

Anyone who can draw a line from Galileo to Madonna should get double up dings.

Well, they’re both Italian! ;-)

15 Nyet  May 10, 2015 10:48:02pm
I’m not trying to pick a fight with you guys, I’m just saying that she makes sense, perfect sense. What she’s saying in the video is what I’ve (inelegantly) tried to express many times here—that science & religion have completely different methodologies & purposes and it therefore strikes me as rather absurd to try to prove or disprove one using (the methodology of) the other.

If a particular strain of religious thought says A and science (or history) proves not-A, then science (or history) has just disproved this particular strain of religious thought. Those who held it now have a choice: change their views in accordance with facts, or deny reality.

For example, yes, there was evolution and the Earth is very old. Hence YECism is incorrect. Science disproved that particular religious idea. (In a way, one can say that science disproved the original, historical versions of Judaism and Christianity.) And so on.

Now, disproving God in general is, of course, not something science can do because it’s not a testable claim. When a religion does make a testable claim though, and this claim is central to the religion, it is fair to say that this religion can be disproved by science.

16 Nyet  May 10, 2015 10:55:57pm

re: #11 goddamnedfrank

Agnosticism is Clint Eastwood in that Dirty Harry movie where he’s all “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Atheism is Clint Eastwood lecturing an empty chair on stage in front of a confused audience.

Atheism is like “no, there are no gnomes that steal your underpants”.

Agnosticism is like “you don’t know whether there are such gnomes or not and you show your arrogance by claiming that there are no such gnomes; we can’t really decide if there are or not”.

// (Well, not really, because atheism in general doesn’t actually deny God and one can be an agnostic atheist like myself (“I acknowledge that, strictly speaking, it’s impossible to disprove the underpants gnomes hypothesis, but we also need to acknowledge that it’s highly unlikely, unprovable and unparsimonious, hence we proceed on a well-founded assumption that there are no underpants gnomes”); but fundamentalist agnosticism is just silly.)

17 freetoken  May 10, 2015 11:04:15pm

re: #16 Nyet

Agnosticism is like “you don’t know whether there are such gnomes or not and you show your arrogance by claiming that there are no such gnomes; we can’t really decide if there are or not”.

Aren’t you technically describing Agnomicism?

18 team_fukit  May 10, 2015 11:04:22pm

This is why I prefer Daniel Dennett, he’s a philosopher and way more polite than Dawkins, et al.

19 team_fukit  May 10, 2015 11:05:59pm

Scott’s position is also problematic if you want to construct a Natural Theology

20 Varek Raith  May 10, 2015 11:37:00pm

Science is falsifiable.
Faith is not.

I have no desire to fight with those of faith as I can’t ever win. It’s all taken on faith.

:)

21 wheat-dogghazi-mailgate  May 10, 2015 11:45:14pm

re: #19 team_fukit

Scott’s position is also problematic if you want to construct a Natural Theology

I would assume Scott does not subscribe to such a philosophy/theology. Some believers also have trouble with it, since it in some ways replaces faith with tangible experience.

22 Nyet  May 11, 2015 1:35:56am

A measure of agnosticism is always necessary - it’s a component of skepticism.

But militant agnosticism, as a meta-religious phenomenon, is just another form of faith. Oftentimes one can see ignorant militant agnostics making claims like “atheists have as much faith as theists when it comes to God’s existence” (let’s ignore for the moment that such a claim is false if only because in general atheism is a lack of belief in God, not necessarily a “positive” belief in non-existence), and this is a veiled claim about the prior probability of God’s existence, namely, that it’s 50/50.

Because any (meaningfully) different probability distribution automatically means that atheists and theists don’t have the “same” amount of faith (e.g. if the prior probability is 1/99 (either way) then the “losing” side necessarily has more faith; those who believe in underpants gnomes and those who believe in their non-existence don’t have the same amount of faith).

And so, by making this implicit claim about probability, militant agnostics actually demonstrate their own faith, which is not particularly well thought-out or consistent (e.g. they’re usually happy to make statements like “there are no devil possessions” or “there are no werewolves”, forgetting that proving those negatives is pretty problematic too - so they should be saying “I don’t know if there are devils and werewolves”; and in fact almost any mundane statement depends on assumptions like “this is really happening and I’m not in the Matrix/Boltzmann brain/brain in a vat”, which means that a truly consistent agnostic should have a problem with most mundane statements like “there is the Sun” or “I’m drinking tea at the moment”; limiting agnosticism only to the God question is absolutely arbitrary).

23 Justanotherhuman  May 11, 2015 2:32:37am

I’m a materialist, so I’ll just reply with this vulgar saying: “Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which fills up faster.” I see “faith” that way, even distinct from hope, for instance. I can “hope” someone makes a safe trip, but cannot “on faith” actually think they will, due to many variables inherent in such trip, even if it’s a very short trip. It’s up to those variables, including the skills and thinking of the person doing the transporting, whether or not s/he and/or passengers arrive safely. Otherwise, you might as well allow a honey badger to take your life into its hands.

The mind and the brain are not the same—all living creatures have brains, ours is just the most advanced evolutionarily in thinking. How we train our minds is important, it’s why education without a religious POV is important. Unless the brain is damaged materially, it will continue its regular job of keeping us functioning, but the mind, however, depending on how it’s trained throughout our lives, can wander and trap us in all kinds of wishful thinking. Therefore, I’m sticking with those who over the years keep an open mind in curiosity and discovery, and can offer proof through persistent and informed methodology, not wishful thinking, which is what I think about faith, to explain life itself.

So far, science is winning from my own POV.

24 Romantic Heretic  May 11, 2015 3:27:55am

re: #6 goddamnedfrank

This is really where I think overt agnosticism pays off, by not coming off like a cocksure dillhole making absolutist bullshit raw assertions about the intrinsically unknowable.

That’s been my stance for ages now.

I like Larry Niven’s definition of agnosticism. “Someone who does not know the nature of God and does not believe you know either.”

25 Nyet  May 11, 2015 3:47:53am

Believing that God is unknowable is also just another unsupported belief, i.e. faith. Agnostics are not some objective, neutral observers they often think they are.

26 EiMitch  May 11, 2015 4:16:13am

If we’re talking about a general deism, then there is no way to prove/disprove god exists. But we can say science has disproved more specific deities, such as the god of a literally interpreted bible who created the earth in a week mere thousands of years ago, (and going out of his way to make all evidence indicate otherwise because Yahwey is actually Loki) created the human race as one man and one woman who had two sons, (how the hell does that work? God might as well have created Adam and Steve) flooded the entire world to rid it of sin, (an all-knowing, all-loving deity somehow didn’t foresee the futility of drowning pretty much all life for that goal) scattered humanity for daring to build a tower to reach the heavens… (and apparently decided he didn’t care anymore as of the era of modern skyscrapers and manned space flights)

Well, you get the idea, right?

27 EiMitch  May 11, 2015 4:50:45am

re: #25 Nyet

Believing that God is unknowable is also just another unsupported belief, i.e. faith. Agnostics are not some objective, neutral observers they often think they are.

So what are saying? That the existence/nonexistence of god is knowable? I ask because if you’re not saying that, then you’re just playing with the definitions of words to reach the conclusions you prefer.

Come to think of it, could we all please stop arguing over the definitions of atheism, agnosticism, belief, and faith? Because that’s all we’re arguing over, definitions. It would be cool if it stopped at “this is how I prefer to define such & such,” but it never stops at that. It always devolves into “no, no, no, this is the only way to define so & so because I don’t like the conclusions implied by the other definition(s). And you’re being a closed-minded, dummy, jerk, poo-poo-head for not seeing it the way I do.”

If you define belief and faith narrowly in the religious sense, and atheism narrowly as the lack of religious faith, and agnosticism as saying the existence of an unfalsifiable being is unknowable, then atheism and agnosticism aren’t beliefs. But if you define these terms more broadly, then atheism and agnosticism are beliefs on matters of faith. If you define faith even broader, then all of science, or even all concrete knowledge and human experience, is faith. Because how do you know the world around you is real, and that you’re not just plugged into the friggin’ matrix or something?

Do you see what I mean, everybody? If you wax the carrot philosophical enough, you can reach the… Um, conclusions that make you feel good. But it still boils down to banter over diction. Enough of that folks, please.

28 Decatur Deb  May 11, 2015 5:08:57am

re: #27 EiMitch

Yup. Son2 says I’m a ‘soft’ atheist. I say I’m agnostic. It all hangs on the way the words were used in a segment of Pittsburgh in the 1950s.

29 Nyet  May 11, 2015 5:55:32am

re: #27 EiMitch

No, what I am saying is that if God exists, his nature may as well be knowable, and a dogma saying otherwise is just that. It’s not based on anything.

As for whether the existence of God is knowable: first of all, define knowledge. If you are using the word in some absolute sense, maybe its not knowable, but then nothing much is except for cogito ergo sum.

I see nothing problematic with knowing that God exists. True, we don’t have credible evidence for it, but theoretically, in another possible world there might be actual evidence for his existence.

As for whether the non-existence is knowable under the non-absolutist definition, I have already asked above: do we know that underpants gnomes, werewolves and devil possessions do not exist? If we can answer yes to that question, what makes God different?

30 wrenchwench  May 11, 2015 6:05:59am

Michael Shermer is a cyclist. As detailed in Wikipedia,

An acute medical condition is named for him: “Shermer Neck” is pain in and extreme weakness of the neck muscles found among long-distance bicyclists.

He is also a rude atheist. I unfollowed him on Twitter him some time back. What a pain in the neck.

31 Nyet  May 11, 2015 6:15:37am

re: #30 wrenchwench

I haven’t seen rudeness (but then I didn’t read his Twitter). He is however a possible rapist. That said, his flaws as a human being are not relevant to whether he is right or wrong on this issue (and he is wrong).

32 A Cranky One  May 11, 2015 7:28:52am

I’ve long been a fan of Eugenie Scott. She’s done some excellent work supporting the teaching of evolution and pushing back against the Republican/Christian Right’s attempts to get creationism and intelligent design taught in schools.

While science can’t disprove the supernatural (by definition, since science is the study of the natural) it can and has disproved certain religious claims such as those by creationists. When religions make testable claims about the world/universe, science can be used to investigate those claims and determine their validity. Finding some religious claims to be invalid doesn’t mean that no god exists, just that specific claims about the actions/mechanisms used by god are inaccurate.

What science has done is determine that when investigating the world/universe, supernatural explanations are not necessary. So in a way science is an atheistic enterprise; it assumes that there is a natural explanation for phenomena under study.

But science can’t determine if a god exists or not. Perhaps if there was an agreed upon definition of god and it’s attributes then science could investigate the question, but since no such agreed upon definition exists science can’t be used to investigate the question. Those who claim that since science has always found a naturalistic explanation for phenomena that no supernatural exists are simply wrong.

33 Great White Snark  May 11, 2015 7:54:51am

Where this discussion goes most wrong is when it catches up the angry, the emotional, the evangelical or the contemptuous individuals. Where it goes best is when we have people involved like here at this blog that look at this more intelligently and less personally emotional. It’s really a pleasure to see the take as above, and we all get reminded to maintain a modicum of respect for that person that arrived at the other conclusion. Thank you CL.

34 CuriousLurker  May 11, 2015 7:55:46am

Wow, you guys were busy while I was sleeping & starting my Monday! At least you’re never boring, huh? ;-)

Rather than trying to respond to everyone, I’m going to wimp out and just pass out updings all around to show my appreciation for your participation (not necessarily agreement). When my Monday ceases being manic, as Monday’s typically are, I’ll come back to more closely read & ponder everyone’s comments.

35 Nyet  May 11, 2015 8:42:36am

BTW, science totally can study supernatural stuff as long as it is testable. The problem is only that even if there is something supernatural in this world, it surely is too well-hidden. ;)

36 Varek Raith  May 11, 2015 9:10:01am

re: #34 CuriousLurker

Wow, you guys were busy while I was sleeping & starting my Monday! At least you’re never boring, huh? ;-)

Rather than trying to respond to everyone, I’m going to wimp out and just pass out updings all around to show my appreciation for your participation (not necessarily agreement). When my Monday ceases being manic, as Monday’s typically are, I’ll come back to more closely read & ponder everyone’s comments.

Aww, I wasn’t scary enough…
/:P

37 b_sharp  May 11, 2015 10:30:03am

re: #35 Nyet

BTW, science totally can study supernatural stuff as long as it is testable. The problem is only that even if there is something supernatural in this world, it surely is too well-hidden. ;)

That’s why I stress that we can only test specific events that overlap into the physical realm from a specific god. We can’t test for a god directly because he/she/it may be capricious enough to fuck with our heads. We can test for alternate explanations as we have through time and draw conclusions based on the results.

We don’t need a god for any of the physical phenomena that we observe, and every place that has been traditionally attributed to a god, like thunder, floods, etc. have been shown to have much simpler, more mundane explanations. There is no fingerprint from a god in any of it. Nothing unique that would point to a supernatural cause.

Given that what we expect and accept has to be plausible within the constraints of our knowledge base, and that knowledge base is continually expanding with more constraints being added as we learn, the possibility of a god is diminished. The places a god can hide are disappearing as we learn.

Now, the part where religion and science conflict is when religion becomes so obsessed with itself that the believers start rejecting the findings of science when it disagrees with their desired beliefs. They end up building their own science which draws people away from functional science.

Yes, there are scientists out there who are also religious and that doesn’t interfere with the quality of their science. However, there are also putative scientists who distort science to fit their religion and convince enough people in the real world that they are the ‘true scientists’ that there is an effective conflict.

Policies in the real world are not set by what humanity knows, but what individuals believe. There’s the rub.

38 b_sharp  May 11, 2015 10:30:26am

re: #34 CuriousLurker

Wow, you guys were busy while I was sleeping & starting my Monday! At least you’re never boring, huh? ;-)

Rather than trying to respond to everyone, I’m going to wimp out and just pass out updings all around to show my appreciation for your participation (not necessarily agreement). When my Monday ceases being manic, as Monday’s typically are, I’ll come back to more closely read & ponder everyone’s comments.

Chicken.

39 b_sharp  May 11, 2015 10:31:00am

re: #35 Nyet

BTW, science totally can study supernatural stuff as long as it is testable. The problem is only that even if there is something supernatural in this world, it surely is too well-hidden. ;)

A trickster god could make the supernatural look like anything.

40 Nyet  May 11, 2015 10:43:03am

re: #37 b_sharp

I don’t necessarily mean God, as he might indeed be too capricious, but imagine e.g. Harry Potter’s world where the magical realm intersects more with the everyday part and where scientists are able to study the wizards. They may not get to “why” (but then it’s the same in reality, scientists stop somewhere, and what remains are brute facts with no “whys” answered), but they sure as heck can study the phenomena as they are.

41 Great White Snark  May 11, 2015 10:46:30am

Language / logic question-Let’s say we find some unknown factor or force that many would call supernatural. Well, by definition anything we find should simply get added to the list natural forces anyway right?

Suppose some few people were tested repeatedly and passed strict protocols for telepathy. Bam, we then know telepathy to be both possible and a natural outcome of the sum of our parts at least for those few tested. That or declare these people as messiahs or something. *shudder*

42 Nyet  May 11, 2015 10:54:14am

re: #41 Great White Snark

Language / logic question-Let’s say we find some unknown factor or force that many would call supernatural. Well, by definition anything we find should simply get added to the list natural forces anyway right?

Suppose some few people were tested repeatedly and passed strict protocols for telepathy. Bam, we then know telepathy to be both possible and a natural outcome of the sum of our parts at least for those few tested. That or declare these people as messiahs or something. *shudder*

It’s still supernatural. It’s a mental phenomenon that is not reducible to any non-mental phenomena.

43 Nyet  May 11, 2015 10:59:09am

“Supernatural” is not an epistemological, but rather an ontological category. It doesn’t depend on our knowledge. There’s a word for epistemological “weirdness”: paranormal. Paranormal need not be supernatural (e.g. aliens). Many things modern science has established would have been paranormal for ancient people, but they would not have been supernatural.

44 Great White Snark  May 11, 2015 11:11:42am

re: #42 Nyet

Well I guess add the separate list if ever. Won’t be holding my breath for it. Trying in the last minutes to confirm if the piezoelectric effect may have jolted some stone carvers way back when. Given the state of understanding that stone may well have been thought of as supernatural. Of course we now know of this property quite well. if telepathy ever shows up, I suspect a rush to run down the mechanism would successfully follow, but of course now I speculated on a rather unlikely what if. (missed your #43 whilst typing away, and point taken)

45 Nyet  May 11, 2015 11:26:11am

re: #44 Great White Snark

Well, sure, that jolt was paranormal, and if the guy thought it was supernatural, he would have been mistaken. Of course one can and will make mistakes in assigning stuff to different categories (is it merely paranormal or is it supernatural?). With supernatural, the assignment will depend on our knowledge, but the state of the thing as it is doesn’t. Whereas paranormal wholly depends on whether it’s within our general human experience or not.

Same-looking things can be natural or supernatural BTW. E.g. if we established that all the magic in the Potter world was a result of some super-advanced tech - nanorobots, quantum stuff and such - all things would still look the same, but that world would no longer be supernatural. It would be fully reducible to non-mental phenomena. But such an explanation is less parsimonious than simply accepting that magic existed in that world, so unless the scientists actually found those nanorobots, they would be justified in concluding that yes, it is supernatural.

But this is really a digression. My point was to demonstrate how science can study the supernatural as long as it is testable, and in my example the Potter world is supernatural by definition - scientists are still able to study it.

46 EiMitch  May 11, 2015 11:28:17am

re: #29 Nyet

As for whether the existence of God is knowable: first of all, define knowledge. If you are using the word in some absolute sense, maybe its not knowable, but then nothing much is except for cogito ergo sum.

I see nothing problematic with knowing that God exists. True, we don’t have credible evidence for it, but theoretically, in another possible world there might be actual evidence for his existence.

So basically, you chose to define knowledge very broadly to include religious faith and/or hypothetical other worlds. I’ve re-read a few times, and I’m still not entirely sure where you were going with that. Anyway, that’s not the definition I prefer, and I doubt many agnostics use that definition either.

do we know that underpants gnomes, werewolves and devil possessions do not exist? If we can answer yes to that question, what makes God different?

If we’re talking about a specific deity, such as god as interpreted literally from the bible, then there is none. We know they don’t exist, because all of the objective, empirical evidence available on zoology, disease, astronomy, etc do not support the existence of any such things.

But if we’re talking about a more general concept of god, which is invisible and/or not existing within this dimension.universe etc, then there is a difference: falsifiability. That god has been defined to exist beyond all possible knowledge, (at least by my preferred definition) because (s)he/it cannot be tested nor observed in any hypothetical way. (at least not in this world/dimension/universe/etc.) And that god’s interactions with this world are indistinguishable from natural phenomena. Therefore, when agnostics say that god as popularly defined is unknowable, they’re stating an observation, not dogma.

But if you keep switching definitions and otherwise dropping context, then yeah, I suppose you could say agnostics are dogmatists. Whatever makes you happy.

Speaking of diction:

re: #43 Nyet

“Supernatural” is not an epistemological, but rather an ontological category. It doesn’t depend on our knowledge. There’s a word for an epistemological “weirdness”: paranormal. Paranormal need not be supernatural (e.g. aliens). Many things modern science has establish would be paranormal for ancient people, but they would not be supernatural.

So you reject GWS’s (and incidentally my own) definition of natural as “that which exists in this universe.” And then, bring-up another word “paranormal,” which you define as “weird,” because… I dunno, more diction to argue over? Whatevs.

I care more about how you’re defining “supernatural” in a way that is hypothetically knowable. So how about giving us an actual example? Not hypothetical, but something from the real world? Any one such example will do. Otherwise, the supernatural as you’ve defined it is no different from gnomes, lycanthropes, demonic possessions, etc. /nailed the callback!

47 Nyet  May 11, 2015 11:53:30am

re: #46 EiMitch

So basically, you chose to define knowledge very broadly to include religious faith and/or hypothetical other worlds.

That phrase doesn’t even make sense, I defined knowledge to include hypothetical worlds? No, I used a possible world as an illustration of how a god can be knowable. Obviously, we don’t have credible evidence for god at this moment, but such evidence is possible in principle. I don’t see what is so hard about that.

If we’re talking about a specific deity, such as god as interpreted literally from the bible, then there is none. We know they don’t exist, because all of the objective, empirical evidence available on zoology, disease, astronomy, etc do not support the existence of any such things.

But if we’re talking about a more general concept of god, which is invisible and/or not existing within this dimension.universe etc, then there is a difference: falsifiability. That god has been defined to exist beyond all possible knowledge, (at least by my preferred definition) because (s)he/it cannot be tested nor observed in any hypothetical way. (at least not in this world/dimension/universe/etc.) And that god’s interactions with this world are indistinguishable from natural phenomena. Therefore, when agnostics say that god as popularly defined is unknowable, they’re stating an observation, not dogma.

God as popularly defined actually interacts with this world in a supernatural way, sometimes visibly so, and so is theoretically knowable. Moreover, I was addressing the absolutist statement about any big-G-God, not only about God as you think he is popularly defined. If God wants to make himself available to us, he is able to and is thus theoretically knowable. So yes, that absolutist bullshit is pure dogma.

But if you keep switching definitions and otherwise dropping context, then yeah, I suppose you could say agnostics are dogmatists. Whatever makes you happy.

I don’t keep switching anything and am consistent. You’ve already failed to understand some very basic points I’ve made, so maybe you just don’t get the rest of it.

So you reject GWS’s (and incidentally my own) definition of natural as “that which exists in this universe.”

I certainly do, because that’s not how the word is actually used.

I care more about how you’re defining “supernatural” in a way that is hypothetically knowable. So how about giving us an actual example? Not hypothetical, but something from the real world?

Wait, what? You know very well that I don’t believe in supernatural, but want me to give an example of supernatural from the real world?

Any one such example will do. Otherwise, the supernatural as you’ve defined it is no different from gnomes, lycanthropes, demonic possessions, etc. /nailed the callback!

Since I don’t believe in supernatural, it is indeed analogous to all that, as far as I’m concerned.

48 EPR-radar  May 11, 2015 12:15:17pm

re: #32 A Cranky One


What science has done is determine that when investigating the world/universe, supernatural explanations are not necessary. So in a way science is an atheistic enterprise; it assumes that there is a natural explanation for phenomena under study.

Philosophers have given this important aspect of the scientific method a name: ‘methodological naturalism’. Doing scientific work does not require a philosophical commitment to naturalism (e.g., Einstein was religious). What it does require is that theories and explanations in science be natural as opposed to supernatural (‘goddidit’ being the canonical supernatural explanation that is categorically rejected by scientists).

I would say that it is the success of science that has demonstrated the uselessness of supernatural explanations for natural events. In a possible world with a busy Loki-type god, it would be foolish to categorically reject such supernatural explanations, and science would fail miserably.

We definitely do not live in such a world, and in fact religions should avoid making empirically testable claims, since these are most often provably wrong.

49 Nyet  May 11, 2015 12:21:45pm

re: #48 EPR-radar

Science doesn’t work with Loki, true, but as long as supernatural stuff is known with a good probability to behave according to some internal laws, i.e. if there are observable regularities, science can nevertheless proceed. It’s not so much about natural v. supernatural as it is about regularity v. chaos.

50 Nyet  May 11, 2015 12:23:27pm

E.g. if astrology were true, it would be supernatural but still amenable to scientific research.

51 EiMitch  May 11, 2015 12:23:47pm

re: #47 Nyet

God as popularly defined actually interacts with this world in a supernatural way, sometimes visibly so, and so is theoretically knowable.

Except those interactions, as popularly defined, are indistinguishable from natural phenomenon. Therefore, it’s unfalsifiable, not knowable. I’ve said as much in my previous post. So right there, you have dropped some context.

I don’t keep switching anything and am consistent. You’ve already failed to understand some very basic points I’ve made, so maybe you just don’t get the rest of it.

Here is some more context you’ve dropped/missed. I’ve been talking about people disagreeing over basic definitions. Yet, you assumed I was accusing you of not being consistent with your own arguments? Okay, whatevs.

You’ve already failed to understand some very basic points I’ve made, so maybe you just don’t get the rest of it.

/rubbing it in.

52 Nyet  May 11, 2015 12:34:55pm

re: #51 EiMitch

Except those interactions, as popularly defined, are indistinguishable from natural phenomenon.

Except it’s just not true. And in any case, as I have already pointed out, I was not limiting what I wrote to some choice representation of God. You came with your own limited definition I never had in mind. That’s just BS.

Here is some more context you’ve dropped/missed. I’ve been talking about people disagreeing over basic definitions. Yet, you assumed I was accusing you of not being consistent with your own arguments? Okay, whatevs.

Um, sorry, but you are making less and less sense. And I’m not in the mood to decipher your dark sayings.

53 EPR-radar  May 11, 2015 12:36:48pm

re: #51 EiMitch

Why do you insist that the popular definitions of God include a requirement that its interventions be indistinguishable from natural phenomenon?

This doesn’t seem consistent with what little I know of religious teachings. For example, Catholicism requires documented miracles as part of the process for naming someone a saint.

Furthermore, that requirement makes your claim that god is intrinsically unknowable true by definition, which suggests circular reasoning.

54 EiMitch  May 11, 2015 1:46:42pm

re: #52 Nyet

re: #53 EPR-radar

Are you effing kidding me? How many theists claim to witness/document the occurrence of miracles that are at least hypothetically distinguishable from natural events? Most common claims are relatively mundane things like “I prayed to god to help me find my car keys and then I found them,” or “that storm was a sign from god.”

re: #52 Nyet

I was not limiting what I wrote to some choice representation of God. You came with your own limited definition I never had in mind. That’s just BS.

Oh? So how many people still believe in god as described in a literal interpretation of the bible? As a being who made us in his own image that dwells up in the sky above the clouds? Is that the more popular concept of god?

re: #53 EPR-radar

This doesn’t seem consistent with what little I know of religious teachings. For example, Catholicism requires documented miracles as part of the process for naming someone a saint.

And how many of these documented catholic miracles don’t have a natural explanation? More pertinent, what do catholics have to say about more naturalistic explanations of their miracles?

To reiterate: how is it untrue that most people believe that god’s interaction with this world are indistinguishable from natural events? Because (and pardon me if I’m a tad presumptuous here) they’ll claim otherwise at first, only to retreat to this rationale when cornered with facts and logic: that they “just know” god was involved, “felt god’s presence,” or something similar? How many people make claims of supernatural events that don’t boil down to that story when challenged? How many people believe without such a rationalization?

re: #52 Nyet

Um, sorry, but you are making less and less sense. And I’m not in the mood to decipher your dark sayings.

I point out that your arguments are based on disagreements of definition. Then you accuse me of accusing you of being inconsistent. If that’s the part which is making less and less sense, then it’s your own fault. Seriously, of all the things I’ve said in this thread, this is what you refer to as “dark sayings”?

55 EPR-radar  May 11, 2015 2:23:30pm

re: #54 EiMitch


And how many of these documented catholic miracles don’t have a natural explanation? More pertinent, what do catholics have to say about more naturalistic explanations of their miracles?

To reiterate: how is it untrue that most people believe that god’s interaction with this world are indistinguishable from natural events? Because (and pardon me if I’m a tad presumptuous here) they’ll claim otherwise at first, only to retreat to this rationale when cornered with facts and logic: that they “just know” god was involved, “felt god’s presence,” or something similar? How many people make claims of supernatural events that don’t boil down to that story when challenged? How many people believe without such a rationalization?

According to the RCC’s own rules, it isn’t a miracle if there is some easy natural explanation.

In any case, I certainly don’t agree with this program of asserting that religious believers all or mostly believe that divine intervention is indistinguishable from natural events. Religious believers mostly don’t write or talk that way, and there is no reason not to take that evidence at face value.

Here’s an easy counter-example. A non-material soul, usually immortal, is a common element of religious belief, and there is no naturalistic explanation for such a soul. Thus anyone who believes that god has something to do with souls (e.g., rewards and punishment in an afterlife) has beliefs about divine activity that are distinguishable from natural events.

56 Nyet  May 11, 2015 3:13:16pm

re: #54 EiMitch

Are you effing kidding me? How many theists claim to witness/document the occurrence of miracles that are at least hypothetically distinguishable from natural events?

Your constant moving of the goalposts is tiring. It doesn’t matter in the slightest whether they themselves claim to have experienced something like this. Many still believe he does these things, including miracles through saints, magical impossible healings (incl. resurrections), apparitions and so on. See the whole Bible thing, you know. God appearing on Earth, doing miracles and stuff. Quite the opposite of the thing-in-itself you want him to be in the eyes of the believers. And for the third time, even if you were right about the more popular concept (and you’re obviously not) it doesn’t matter in the slightest, since I wasn’t talking about what concept was the most popular in the first place, so it’s just your strawman. This is so dumb that it’s a waste of time arguing about it further.

I point out that your arguments are based on disagreements of definition. Then you accuse me of accusing you of being inconsistent. If that’s the part which is making less and less sense, then it’s your own fault. Seriously, of all the things I’ve said in this thread, this is what you refer to as “dark sayings”?

I’m not sure you yourself understand what your point is anymore.

57 Thanos  May 11, 2015 5:33:40pm

Something else to think on

58 Thanos  May 11, 2015 5:37:39pm

59 EiMitch  May 11, 2015 6:28:52pm

re: #56 Nyet

I see the game you’re playing. I see it far later than I should’ve, I loathe to admit. I’ve stated all along that specific religious claims are falsifiable, but more general concept of god is unfalsifiable. Whereas you conflate the two, in order to argue that god is falsifiable and therefore agnosticism is a dogmatic position. That equivocation is the central premise to your argument, and you’re case rested on distracting from that equivocation by haggling over minutia. The very self-serving hair-splitting that I originally pleaded against. And to my shame, I fell for it anyway. I had every reason to know better, and yet you roped me in.

You accused me of making arbitrary distinctions because I pointed out that you conflated the generalized idea of god with the specific claims of religions. You accused me of moving goalposts because I pointed out that theists were the ones who moved the goalposts to the unfalsifiable as a necessary result of their previous falsifiable claims being falsified. I’ve been arguing all along that the theists current unfalsifiable position is the one that agnostics say is unknowable. But you re~ea~ally want to keep labeling them as dogmatists.

So congratu-freaking-lations on successfully baiting me. I hope that made you feel smarter and that you remembered to bring a towel.

60 EiMitch  May 11, 2015 6:38:12pm

re: #55 EPR-radar

According to the RCC’s own rules, it isn’t a miracle if there is some easy natural explanation.

Mother Theresa was declared a saint on the grounds of only one documented miracle. And that miracle was that she supposedly cured a woman of cancer, despite that woman’s husband coming forward to say that doctors were responsible for her recovery. Mull that over.

Here’s an easy counter-example. A non-material soul, usually immortal, is a common element of religious belief, and there is no naturalistic explanation for such a soul. Thus anyone who believes that god has something to do with souls (e.g., rewards and punishment in an afterlife) has beliefs about divine activity that are distinguishable from natural events.

And Nyet just accused me of moving goalposts. The conversation was about what is or isn’t falsifiable, and “souls” most certainly aren’t. Outside of religious faith, there is no reason to believe a “non-material soul, usually immortal” exists, nor is there anyway to disprove the existence of a soul. It is entirely untestable.

61 EPR-radar  May 11, 2015 7:04:25pm

re: #60 EiMitch

And Nyet just accused me of moving goalposts. The conversation was about what is or isn’t falsifiable, and “souls” most certainly aren’t. Outside of religious faith, there is no reason to believe a “non-material soul, usually immortal” exists, nor is there anyway to disprove the existence of a soul. It is entirely untestable.

Of course the existence and fate of a soul is untestable. That’s really my point. You seemed to be arguing that religious believers have retreated to a notion of divine activity that is indistinguishable from natural events. That seems to me to be false on its face (e.g., souls, heaven and hell, doctrines of major faiths etc.). There is more to most religion than an inherently unknowable deity that only acts by mimicking natural events. Your argument that theists would inevitably retreat to that position when pressed isn’t very strong. What would compel someone to give up their belief in a conventional Heaven/Hell Christian afterlife?

From your reply to Nyet, it also appears that you aren’t really interested in religion as actually practiced, and are arguing from a definition of god (i.e. a god that acts only via effects that are indistinguishable from natural events) that makes its unknowability true by definition. I’ll happily agree that god defined in that way is inherently unknowable, making agnosticism with respect to that god trivially true. In other words, that agnosticism is simply a consequence of definitions, as opposed to being some kind of observation.

I disagree that this notion of god is in any way popular. It seems pretty close to Deism, which is a known thing, but hardly a major branch of religion.

62 CuriousLurker  May 11, 2015 10:35:53pm

I’m gonna just keep updinging everyone and munching on my popcorn. Oh look—SQUIRREL!—I have a new page up and there’s not anything the least bit controversial about it for you guys to argue over. (I think. //)

63 Nyet  May 11, 2015 11:02:54pm

re: #59 EiMitch

No, what actually happened is that I objected to the dogmatic statement made about God (any God; all versions of him, whether more or less popular). Then came you with a bee in your bonnet and started redefining things, moving the goalposts and erecting strawmen, thus showing that you’re not arguing in good faith. Yet at the end you have failed to show that the statement “God is unknowable” is anything but a faith statement. For it to be true, any God (big G) has to be unknowable (not simply the most popular version, which is knowable anyway and is not equal to a “general concept of God” you insist on now that your funnily absurd claim has been shown to be false). And yes, any particular knowable God is sufficient to debunk that absolutist statement. Learn how logic works.

64 Nyet  May 11, 2015 11:28:28pm

re: #61 EPR-radar

One simple example: tens of millions of Orthodox Christians believe in the so-called Holy Fire that appears every year in Jerusalem on Easter. Now, it’s not all that hard to debunk the notion, but that’s irrelevant: people still believe the fire comes down by supernatural means and has supernatural properties, like allegedly not burning the skin in the first few minutes. The God of these people therefore shows himself in this way and is not some thing-in-itself. And that’s just the most obvious example. There are also icons and relics that give off myrrh, there are Orthodox exorcists that claim they can distinguish between mentally ill and really possessed, and so on. So yes, that God is very much present in this world in ways that are potentially distinguishable from natural occurrences.

65 EiMitch  May 12, 2015 10:42:06am

re: #63 Nyet

And yes, any particular knowable God is sufficient to debunk that absolutist statement. Learn how logic works.

Take your own advice. Your argument rests upon the assertion that agnostics claim that falsifiable versions of god are unknowable. But generally, they don’t. They only claim that about unfalsifiable versions of god. Therefore, you’ve been attacking a strawman. Despite my missteps, EPR-radar understands that central point I’ve been making this whole time. Why don’t you?

re: #62 CuriousLurker

Well, I’m glad you got some schadenfreude, because I’m bowing out now. Peace.

66 CuriousLurker  May 12, 2015 1:28:30pm

re: #65 EiMitch

Well, I’m glad you got some schadenfreude, because I’m bowing out now. Peace.

Schadenfreude? Okay, now you can just piss the hell off and go enjoy nursing your self-inflicted wounds.

67 Great White Snark  May 12, 2015 6:06:50pm

re: #65 EiMitch

Well, I’m glad you got some schadenfreude, because I’m bowing out now. Peace.

This gets contentious easily. But you have really taken a shot at an undeserving Page author here. I think you got annoyed enough to cloud your thinking for a bit.

68 Nyet  May 14, 2015 3:44:25am

re: #65 EiMitch

Take your own advice. Your argument rests upon the assertion that agnostics claim that falsifiable versions of god are unknowable. But generally, they don’t. They only claim that about unfalsifiable versions of god. Therefore, you’ve been attacking a strawman. Despite my missteps, EPR-radar understands that central point I’ve been making this whole time. Why don’t you?

I guess if you ignore comment #24 made by an agnostic, the one I was responding to -

I like Larry Niven’s definition of agnosticism. “Someone who does not know the nature of God and does not believe you know either.”

- and quite apart from that, if you ignore that you’re reducing the unknowability clause to a useless tautology (unknowable God is unknowable; wow, who could have thought!) that is not even relevant to the most popular versions of God (which make themselves known in non-trivial ways acc. to believers), then you could say that I was building a strawman. Of course then you would not be arguing in a fair and honest matter, but hey, whatever floats your boat.

re: #62 CuriousLurker

Well, I’m glad you got some schadenfreude, because I’m bowing out now. Peace.

And now you’re just being an asshole to our page host, who’s been nothing but gracious to both sides.


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